I'm smoking a cigarette in my car and thinking about how I don't know anything and maybe neither does anyone else.
Maybe all that exists is good music, good food, good conversation, good highs, and occasionally good people. I keep hearing that the world is ending, that we have caused its collapse. Or that it isn't ending yet but it will soon. And although I know it's bad for the environment to drive my car, that it only supports our own all encompassing suicide, I still feel the urge not to stop where I'd planned to when I first got in it. To just keep on going, to smoke cigarettes and joints and listen to music and discover different highways, drive through places I've never seen before. I'll stop every now and then just to meet a few people, just to see how life is somewhere else. I may not find anything different, but if I get discouraged by all the drunken shouting and the frenzied groping, all the confusion that everyone seems to be filled with, I'll just get back in my car again; go to another "somewhere else." I'll imagine you being there, or my sisters, or my mother, or my best friend. I'll try to imagine my dad, who I've only known by what he looks like beneath the glass of a picture frame. Inevitably, I'll get thinking about my uncle who's been more my father than anyone, including the actual one. I'll be alone, but I won't be lonely, because I know them all so well that I could just imagine their company.
But maybe I won't take my car, even though I love its dented hood, its convertible top, and its light in the ashtray so I can smoke at night and not drop a cherry on the cushion. Maybe I'll travel by bus, endlessly transferring; meeting all the teenage runaways, all the tourists trying to see the world before they're gone from it, all the families on vacation. I'll ask them what their stories are, and maybe they'll feel better that someone listened. I'll write them all down as best as I can, not to publish, not to make money or a name for myself in the literary world… but maybe to pass on to someone when I die. That someone can add another piece and someone else after that can do the same. It will build upon itself, become more and more until its volumes of what it means to be human; what it means to be dissatisfied, what it means to love, what it means to leave, what it means to die, what it means to belong, and what it means to just not know. Maybe out of all our stories, one day we'll have a glimpse, just a peek through the door of our reality at the consequential truth that I pray lies beneath all of it.
But, then again, maybe it would take too long to read all that. The reader would grow old and never experience what the narrators meant.
Or I won't take the bus because it costs too much. Maybe I'll walk. I'll just pack some notebooks and water, as much food as possible, and as much knowledge as I can carry. I'll walk to all the places I want to see, because that's the only way to ever know a place. You have to see the dirt on its sidewalks, hear the rustle of wind around you, and sit outside other people's conversations over diner food at two in the morning. When I need more food, I'll beg or I'll get a quick under-the-table job to earn money to keep going. Maybe then I'll understand what it's like to eat the scrapes off of other's tables. I'll get cold at night, but I'll sleep under the stars and I'll walk through those deserts and over these mountains; where it rains and snows, where the temperatures drop and there is no convenient needle on a thermostat waiting for me to select my degree of comfort. The sun won't be blocked by a roof and there will be no bottles of water in a chilled fridge. It's there that I'll understand how close death is to us all the time. I'll understand what it means to survive, because I think I've forgotten… it doesn't mean getting through an eight hour work shift. And maybe when I'm lying in bed at night wishing someone's skin was against mine, I'll know it's nothing like being lonely a few yards off the highway, wrapped in a sleeping bag and hearing the real silence in the earth. After all that, I'll know that being lonely is kind of relieving sometimes. But, maybe after walking, I just won't feel lonely anymore.
And maybe I'll hitchhike, walk for hours down the side of windy highways with my thumb jutting out from beneath a heavy coat sleeve. I'll gratefully take rides from whoever offers and it'll be dangerous. Whether or not I make it, I'll know what real fear is like then. So if I ever decide to stay in one place and not roam anymore, I won't be afraid when I don't have enough money to cover the gas bill, because I'll know that it won't kill me.
It's vaguely disappointing when my car arrives where it always does; that same slab of pavement with a faded number five painted over it, temporarily given to me just like it was given to the tenant before. As I head up those stairs, the railing wavering under my hand, the feeling that this is all tedious is not easy to shrug off. It never has been. Inside that apartment, the alarm clock next to my bed is set to wake me up for another day, and that day will be just like all the rest; already written neatly down in my planner with a ballpoint pen. That way there are no surprises. The light has been turned off and my bedroom is dark, my window closed against cold winds and rustling leaves. I start to entertain it again, the idea of something unexpected, but suddenly I'm too afraid I won't be prepared. How can I leave behind my mattress and soft comforter? My gourmet coffee and vegetarian-fed-cage-free eggs? Eyes closed, I remember that I am not this person I have dreamt up. I proved it today as I prove it every day by not getting on that road, getting out of this town and doing it. Today I am just a discontented girl in this over privileged country who doesn't really have anything to complain about and yet can't quite stop. I am just another body in an elevator, another customer in a department store, another drinker at a party. I try to hold on to the idea that I am individual, that what I say matters, that what I dream about exists somewhere. Instead I just find myself "wishing"… for something that doesn't exist. Wishing there was more to the plaster all around me, to the digits in our bank accounts, in our monthly budget, our evening news, evenings spent waiting to go home, go to sleep and do it again.
When I look in the mirror every morning, hair pulled back and sticking out in wry angles, my makeup smeared, and my eyes puffy… I try to see myself in my face and it's just not possible. I can't remember how many times I have looked and not found. Instead, every now and then, when I look away from my eyes, almost gazing through that steamed mirror, I see everything else; all the things I've ever wondered, and ever hoped for, and ever dreamed about or dreaded. I can feel a degree of solace knowing at least that's still there, because sometimes I think it's gone. And without it, I feel like dust, like smoke, like thoughts whispered aloud in an empty room just so it's not so quiet.